Scary movies have it easy. Flash a freaky CGI monster across the screen and the audience shrieks with fear. But how about thrills derived solely through sound?
Grab your headphones and turn out the lights. These dark and creepy podcasts will make the hair in your ears stand on end.
1. Over My Dead Body
Season 1 of Over My Dead Body blew us away earlier this year, and we're far from the only ones impatiently awaiting a second season. The first season, "Tally", follows the disastrous dissolution of the marriage of Dan Markel and Wendi Adelson. Death, conspiracy, and high society intrigue make this investigation a deeply thrilling experience. And the bonus episodes, following the infamous Prodfather case, only made us more impatient for another story to uncover. From the studio that brought you Dirty John, this series will keep you spellbound.
2. NoSleep Podcast
Looking to lose a little sleep? This spine-chilling show features original horror stories of insidious inhabitants, malevolent helpers, and disturbing secret histories. A multi-award winning anthology series with spooky sound effects and even creepier tales. Listeners beware: NoSleep will keep you up all night.
3. The Black Tapes Podcast
Fans of Sarah Koenig’s investigation into the death of Hae Min Lee should tune into this serialized docudrama, which depicts one journalist’s search for truth in a dark and mysterious world. A public radio journalist for Pacific Northwest Stories begins an investigation into the mysterious Strand Institute and its even more frightening founder, Dr. Richard Strand. Each episode of The Black Tapes Podcast reveals a new piece to the puzzle. While the case may be fictional, its thrills are all-too-real.
4. The Generation Why Podcast
In 2012, Justin Evans was a juror on a first-degree murder trial. His first-hand encounter with the dark side sparked numerous conversations with friend Aaron Habel—and with that, The Generation Why Podcast was born. In each episode, Justin and Aaron launch a new investigation into an unsolved murder, a notorious true crime case, or an eerie encounter with the paranormal.
How well do we know ourselves once the sun sets? Show creators Venessa Lowe and Kent Sparling explore how the world around us seems to twist and shift under cover of darkness. The narrative is meant to heighten the senses in the pitch black and make you question life in complete darkness. With an engrossing approach to storytelling and eerie sound design, Nocturne is the perfect audio companion for those long nights alone. Think of ASMR for those with an appreciation for the unknown.
Criminal has amassed a devoted following since its launch in 2014, and it’s easy to see why: The true crime podcast’s killer combination of riveting narration and excellent production makes for highly addictive listening. With each episode, show host Phoebe Judge serves up a strange crime drama—from a Civil War-era murder mystery in Iowa to a reporter who falls for her female serial killer subject.
7. Thinking Sideways
Sometimes life’s strangest mysteries require a little off-kilter thinking. The team at Thinking Sideways employs a lively roundtable approach as they discuss enigmatic cases like the disappearance of Agatha Christie or the Voynich Manuscript. Although none of the three hosts—Devin, Joe, and Steve—have any formal education on the topic, they discuss and interpret the unsolved mysteries through their different perspectives. History buffs with a taste for the bizarre will eat this show up. The show sadly came to a close in August 2018, but there are five years of backlog for new fans to work their way through.
8. Knifepoint Horror
Show creator Soren Narnia strips down creepy stories of murder and madness to their spine-chilling core. No other voices are present in Knifepoint Horror, and there’s little reliance on sound effects or music. Instead, listeners experience a lone voice unraveling a disturbing tale, detail by freaky detail. It will definitely give you a campfire vibe—no s'mores, just scary storytelling.
9. Dirty John
A collaboration between Wondery and Los Angeles Times, this investigative journalism podcast is hosted by journalist Christopher Goffard. The story centers on the life and exploits of John Meehan, with a special focus on the relationship between Meehan and businesswoman Debra Newell. The podcast deals with the abuse and manipulation Newell faced during her relationship with Meehan. With a riveting ending, it'll have you feeling something in the pit of your stomach—and no, we're not talking about butterflies.
10. Crime Writers On...
A weekly podcast hosted by a four-person panel–married couple Rebecca Lavoie and Kevin Flynn, crime noir novelist Toby Ball, and journalist and licensed investigator Lara Bricker–Crime Writers on... began as a commentary on and review of the hit podcast Serial. The podcast was meant to mainly focus on reviewing true crime podcasts. As the audience grew, the panel began to discuss a variety of crime-related pop culture topics, including films and television shows. Any true crime fan will find plenty to love from these writers.
11. Up and Vanished
Up and Vanished was originally envisioned as a true-crime documentary by Atlanta filmmaker Payne Lindsey. The first season follows the 2005 disappearance of Tara Grinstead—a former beauty queen and high school teacher—who vanished without a trace. It was the largest case file in Georgia Bureau of Investigation's history, with no arrests in 11 years. It quickly expanded from a planned six-episode season to a total of 24 episodes, including a stunning revelation in the no-longer-cold case.
12. Hollywood & Crime
The infamous Black Dahlia murder of 1947 mixed glamour and gore in the golden age of film. In Hollywood and Crime, Host Tracy Pattin investigates a string of still-unsolved crimes and scandals of the era. Although Pattin focuses on the brutal murder of Elizabeth Short, she also digs into a string of cases that share similarities with the Black Dahlia murder—a possible serial killer or copycat. Be warned: The episodes are graphic, and the stories are chilling.
Related: Who Killed the Black Dahlia?
Featured photo: Keystone Features / Getty Images